Rockfish season is coming up soon
The spring season for the state fish of Maryland, the rockfish, opens April 16 in the Chesapeake Bay. That’s just two weeks and a handful of days to get your boat and tackle ready. This fishing season signals the official beginning of spring for many of Maryland’s anglers.
Rockfish, also known as striped bass or locally as stripers, are a popular gamefish along the Atlantic coast. This month-long spring season is a good opportunity for spending time on the water with family and friends and sharing the excitement of fishing for trophy-size stripers.
The spring trophy season runs April 16 to May 15. Anglers are allowed to keep one striped bass per day that is 35 inches or longer. Size is measured from the tip of the snout to the tip of the tail. A resident Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Sport Fishing License ($15) can be purchased individually or a boat license ($50) will cover all passengers onboard.
From 1985 to 1990, Maryland issued a moratorium on striped bass fishing because of declining numbers due to overfishing and pollution such as acid rain. I remember those times clearly even though I was only 10 or 11 years old because my dad followed the striped bass restoration efforts closely.
I got to tag along a few times when he visited Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Cedarville Fish Hatchery in Brandywine. We toured the facility, witnessed the artificial spawning process and saw the fry being raised there firsthand. In 1988, hatchery fish comprised 50 percent of the juvenile striped bass population in the Patuxent River. Due to the restoration efforts, by 1995 the striped bass population had made a comeback and commercial and recreational fishing resumed.
The striped bass population is carefully monitored. Although the Atlantic States Fisheries Commission reported that stripers are not overfished or experiencing overfishing currently, there’s a worrisome trend in the spawning stock biomass of female rockfish, which has been decreasing since 2006.
Most, if not all, rockfish that grow to 40 inches or bigger are females. The eggs that ensure future rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries come from these females. Science has shown that the bigger, older female rockfish typically lay more robust eggs in much larger quantities than the younger females. These mature females are designed by nature to be the forbears of larvae that are more resilient and better able to withstand environmental stressors, just the kind of hardy juveniles needed to produce a quality striped bass stock over the long term.
Stripers Forever is an organization that advocates for game-fish status for striped bass and for ending the commercial fishery with a stamp buyout. Since 2003, Stripers Forever has conducted surveys that ask for input from anglers all along the striper’s migratory range. In 2015, 657 respondents weighed in with their observations.
Overall, a majority of anglers felt that they were catching fewer and smaller fish. When asked about the 2011 year class, 84 percent felt the fish were appearing at levels far below expectations for such a huge year class. The members of Stripers Forever believe large breeding stripers should not be harvested and want to set aside a high percentage of the current commercial catch for conservation — and not harvest it themselves — to ensure the future of the wild rockfish stock along the Atlantic coast.
Keep in mind that the larger, trophy-sized fish targeted during this season are more than likely to be female. And, most people agree, the bigger fish don’t taste as good and have had more years in the water to collect contaminants such as PCBs that humans shouldn’t consume.
So consider making trophy rockfish season catch-and-release and give those larger females another chance to spawn. You can always catch your next rockfish meal later this year, and it’s a great excuse to get out on your boat and do more fishing.
Westlake senior Jalen Elliott, the 55-meter hurdles indoor state champion, looks to win his first-ever individual state gold this spring in the outdoor season in the 110-meter hurdles.